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Goodbye, Neil Armstrong.

August 26, 2012

On the afternoon of July 20th, 1969, an awkward kid sat at a card table in front of a black-and-white television. Walter Cronkite was on the TV, and a National Geographic map of the moon was spread out on a card table in front of him. Pushpins showed the primary and backup landing sites for the Eagle lander. That kid followed every minute of that landing. He checked the TV map and moved his pushpin to the exact landing position. And when Neil Armstrong announced, “This is Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed” that kid jumped up in the air and yelled, “We did it!”

That landing cemented my interest in science and technology, an interest that continues to this day. So it was with sadness and nostalgia that I read about Neil Armstrong’s passing yesterday. It took thousands of men and women to get that spacecraft safely to the moon. And Neil Armstrong was the representative of all of those people, and of the hopes and dreams of that 10-year-old kid.

I’m not going to reiterate Neil’s biography. I didn’t really follow his career after his moon landing. But he was the first, and for that I thank him.

Now, 43 years later, we’re still enjoying the fruits of those labors. Integrated circuits (computer chips) and ultra-hard plastics like Lexan(tm) are just two of the spin-offs from that program. And in the 60’s, no one could have predicted that. So if you’re thinking that we can’t afford “luxuries” like a manned landing on Mars, think about two things. Think about the technologies that potentially could come out of the research. And think about the kids that could get inspired to be scientists and engineers, and create that next great industry 20 years from now.

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From → Musings on life

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